An Argentine Protestant in the director’s chair at “L'Osservatore Romano” - Tidningen Kulturen




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With the new year, “L'Osservatore Romano” is turning over a new leaf of its own. Pope Francis wasn’t satisfied with the weekly edition in Spanish that has existed for almost fifty years and is now directed by the Argentine Silvina Pérez. He wanted a new edition just for Argentina, which was launched in recent days complete with his signed inaugural dedication. And he has entrusted its editorship to another of his countrymen, Marcelo Figueroa.




The unprecedented news is that Figueroa is not a Catholic but a Protestant, a pastor of the Presbyterian Church and for twenty-five years the director of the Argentine Biblical Society, in addition to being a longstanding friend of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who wanted him to be there on his recent journey to Lund, for the celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, and has now put him into none other than the director’s chair of the official newspaper of the Holy See.

The unprecedented news is that Figueroa is not a Catholic but a Protestant, a pastor of the Presbyterian Church and for twenty-five years the director of the Argentine Biblical Society, in addition to being a longstanding friend of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who wanted him to be there on his recent journey to Lund, for the celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, and has now put him into none other than the director’s chair of the official newspaper of the Holy See.

In Argentina, it was Figueroa who seated at the same table, with himself in the middle, the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires and the Jewish rabbi Abraham Skorka, for a series of conversations broadcast by Canal 21, the television channel of the archdiocese, later transcribed for a book published in Italian by Libreria Editrice Vaticana with the title: "Conversazioni sulla Bibbia".

That cycle of meetings was interrupted at its thirty-second episode by Bergoglio’s election as pope. The thirty-third, left unproduced, was to have as its topic the word “friendship,” as Figueroa later recounted in “L'Osservatore Romano.”

Today Figueroa is right at home at Santa Marta. In the spring of 2015, when he had to undergo a delicate surgical operation back in Argentina, Francis stayed close to him with continual telephone calls and letters. After he recovered, in September of the same year the pope gave a long interview to him for FM Milennium 106.7, a Buenos Aires radio station. And a year later, he even promoted him not only as director of the Argentine weekly edition of “L'Osservatore Romano,” but even as a “columnist” for the bigger daily edition.

His solemn investiture in this latter role was a curious article in two voices: his own and that of the undisputed leader of the editorialists of “L'Osservatore Romano,” who is also the coordinator of its women’s supplement, “Donne Chiesa Mondo,” Lucetta Scaraffia:

The article, on a whole page of the November 5 issue of “L'Osservatore Romano,” was constructed in the form of a conversation and was a sort of assessment of the pope’s journey to Lund and therefore of the current state of relations between Catholics and Protestants.

But it had a precedent that is worth remembering.

A few days earlier, on November 1, Lucetta Scaraffia had published in “Corriere della Sera” an article on the same topic that had brought dismay to the Catholic camp:

She wrote:

“Today many of the profound dissensions that caused the split in the Church no longer have any reason to exist: the problem of salvation - solely by divine grace, as Luther said, or through works and the mediation of the clergy, as the Catholic Church wanted it - no longer bothers anyone. Just as indulgences have vanished from our horizon, and even the hereafter seems to have faded decades ago. Why quarrel about all of this anymore? And how can we still quarrel about free access to the sacred texts, if today Catholics as well are accustomed to reading the Bible in the editions they prefer, in groups of study and commentary animated by the greatest vivacity? Of course, there are still open theological questions, like the sacraments - reduced in number by the Lutherans - but these are for the most part questions that do not affect the faithful very much.”

To the more perceptive Catholic readers (like Costanza Miriano, who wrote about it in the newspaper “Il Foglio” of November 4), these words seemed to express not an understandable concern about the erosion of the pillars of the Christian faith by the onslaught of secularization, but rather a satisfied realization of the abandonment of doctrinal disputes with the Protestants, “thanks to which” - again according to Scaraffia - “the dialogue between Catholics and Protestants is brought into a condition to move beyond the theological divergences.” Finally.

The fact is that, a few days later, Lucetta Scaraffia again wrote out these same considerations not in the secular “Corriere,” but in the official newspaper of the pope, in a duet with her Protestant colleague Figueroa, who showed that he shared them completely.

On the Protestant side, it does not appear that there have been any reactions to this nonchalant update on ecumenical progress from the two leading writers of “L'Osservatore Romano.”

Of course, however, among the Italian Waldensians - a small but lively Protestant Church that is also present on the two banks of the Río de la Plata - two theologians as renowned as Giorgio Tourn and Paolo Ricca have for some time been critical of the secularizing tendency of both their Church and the Church of Pope Francis.

“The malady,” Ricca said in a recent two-sided debate in “Riforma,” “is that we are all focused on social issues, something that is sacrosanct, but in the social we exhaust Christian discourse, and outside of there we are mute.”

And Tourn: “The policy of pope Bergoglio is to do charity. But it is clear that the witness of fraternal love alone does not automatically lead to knowing Christ. There is today not a silence of God, but our silence about God”:

Adventures and misadventures of the new ecumenical course inaugurated by Pope Francis, also in an Argentine version.

 

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